Biden says he ‘might’ exit race if God tells him to, while more Democrats urge him to drop out

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With the survival of his candidacy in question, Joe Bidensat down with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Friday for one of the most important interviews of the Democratic president’s decades-long political career.

The 22-minute sit-down came a full eight days after Biden’s disastrous debate performance, in which more than 50 million people watched the 81-year-old struggle to complete sentences or respond to basic questions about his campaign. Far fewer people watched the ABC interview, of course, but the audience included many of the elected officials, donors and political strategists who are actively deciding whether to help rescue — or end — Biden’s candidacy in the coming days. Top Biden aides have been pressing elected Democrats not to go public with their concerns.

The president and his team were hopeful that this first interview would help rally his party and generate momentum for the long road ahead. It’s unclear if he was successful.

Here are some key takeaways:

Biden faced a low bar after his debate

At this point, every Biden answer, interview and speech will serve as a Rorschach test of sorts to voters, who consistently tell pollsters that they’re worried about his age. And if people were looking for further signs of trouble, they were easy to find.

Biden performed better than he did on the debate stage. There were also flashes of strength as the president talked up his record, vowed not to leave the race and took shots at Donald Trump, whom he repeatedly described as a “pathological liar.” Biden also referred to Trump at one point as a “congenital liar.”

But he needed to do much more than clear the incredibly low bar he set on national television last week. And the ABC interview had several examples of awkward pauses, garbled words and moments where he meandered.

In one of the opening answers of the interview, Biden struggled to explain clearly whether he was aware of how bad his debate performance was as it was happening in real time. He jumped from his preparation to polling to Trump’s lies during the debate to not blaming anyone.

Trump allies seized on another Biden response suggesting he wasn’t sure if he rewatched his debate performance. “I don’t think so,” Biden said.

He said only ‘the Almighty’ could talk him out of running

Pressed over and over on whether he would step aside, Biden didn’t offer the slightest hint that he might bow to pressure within his party and leave the presidential race.

He refused even to entertain the possibility. Actually, he offered only one exception: “If the Lord Almighty comes down and tells me that, I might do that.”

That’s even as Stephanopoulos presented him with various data points and shared “the prevailing sentiment” from his conversations with party officials. “They are worried about you and the country. And they don’t think you can win. They want you to go with grace,” the journalist said.

Biden pushed back.

“The vast majority are not where those folks are,” he said. “Have you ever seen a time when elected officials running for office aren’t a little worried?”

He took the blame — and dismissed questions about his health

The bottom line is that Biden does not have a good explanation for his dismal debate performance.

In the interview, he called it “a bad episode,” but said there was no indication of a “more serious condition.” Instead, he said he simply had “a really bad cold.” When pressed again, he said, “I just had a bad night.”

He also didn’t blame anyone but himself, even as whispers have surfaced in recent days about his staff and those who coordinated his preparations.

Such an answer, of course, may do little to win over those who are deeply concerned about his physical and mental competence. He also refused to agree to undergo any medical testing that might further assuage such concerns.

Specifically, Stephanopoulos asked whether Biden would agree to an “independent medical evaluation that included neurological and cognitive tests.” He asked more than once when Biden didn’t answer directly.

“Look, I have a cognitive test every single day. Every day I have that test,” Biden said. “Everything I do. Not only am I campaigning, but I’m running the world.”

It was not an easy interview

If Biden’s aides picked Stephanopoulos for the president’s first major post-debate interview hoping he might go easy on him, they were wrong.

Stephanopoulos, who worked as an aide to former President Bill Clinton decades ago, peppered the Democratic president with tough questions and blunt truths, albeit with a soft tone.

When Biden suggested he had recently drawn big crowds, Stephanopoulos retorted: “I don’t think you want to play the crowd game. Donald Trump can draw big crowds.”

Biden appeared flustered at times.

The president paused for an extra beat when Stephanopoulos asked whether he knew “how badly it was going” during the debate. Later, he paused again when Stephanopoulos asked whether he was acting like Trump by “putting his personal interests ahead of the national interest” by staying in the race.

In another exchange, Biden asked Stephanopoulos whether polling is accurate as it used to be.

It was meant to be a rhetorical question. But the interviewer quickly answered.

“I don’t think so, but I think when you look at all the polling data right now, it shows that he’s certainly ahead in the popular vote, probably even more ahead in the battleground states,” Stephanopoulos said of Trump. “And one of the other key factors there is, it shows that in many of the battleground states, the Democrats who are running for Senate and the House are doing better than you are.”

Biden didn’t ask many other rhetorical questions.

One interview won’t fix the damage

Even before the interview was over, it was clear it would take much more to win over a party that is suddenly open to Biden alternatives just four months before Election Day.

At roughly the same time ABC released the first interview clip, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., became the fourth Democratic member of Congress to call on Biden to leave the race.

“To prevent utter catastrophe,” Quigley said on MSNBC, “step down and let someone else do this.”

Democrats are being encouraged by the White House and the president’s campaign not to go public with their concerns about Biden’s viability or electability, according to a Democrat granted anonymity to discuss the matter.

Another Democrat who watched said they found Biden to be shaky and predicted more will call on him to leave the race.

Biden, for his part, refused to entertain the possibility that congressional leaders might confront him in the coming days and ask him to step aside. But as Stephanopoulos said repeatedly, that is indeed a very real possibility. Earlier this week, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia reached out to fellow senators to discuss whether to ask Biden to exit the race.

Biden said Warner “is a good man” but brought up the Virginian’s own previous considerations for a presidential run.

Asked how he would feel come next January if he ultimately lost the race, Biden’s answer may not inspire confidence.

“As long as I gave it my all and I did the goodest job as I know I can do, that’s what this is about,” he said.

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